Adulting: How to Find an Apartment

The time has come to leave behind dorms and say goodbye to childhood homes; you’re finally ready to open an exciting new chapter in life by taking a huge step towards independence by finding an apartment!

Moving out is an incredible process that does requires responsibility and maturity, but is a great way to have some “me” space and to prepare in becoming a proper, “fully grown” adult. This is some expert-level adulting here! Finding that very first place, though, can be very difficult and intimidating. Luckily, it can be broken into four main stages: preparing, looking at apartments, considering a few apartments and moving in. Separating these helps ease some pressure. Moving out is absolutely stressful, but with knowledge comes the power to do it!

Photo via Marco Verch

Preparing to move out

Calculate costs and budget:

Living with parents generally means a free ride, so having to actually pay is a reality check. Take a moment to write down all of your costs on average. If time isn’t a pressing factor, keep track of all your expenses over a few months. Using a graph or spreadsheet is a great way to do this, but it can be done with easy-to-understand lists or sites such as Quicken.  Alternately, apps and sites such as Mint will keep track of your bank accounts and break it down for you. After that, calculate how much money you earn per month. Your rent, ideally, should be no more than 25-33% of your monthly income. However, this is often unrealistic for students. Students generally do not have full-time or high-paying jobs. In this case, calculate how much money you will have leftover each month and determine how comfortable you will be. Personally, I try to have several hundred dollars leftover, but I know some who have under $200.

 

A very simplistic budget from Quicken shows how much is spent and how much money is left over.

Made on Quicken

Consider roommates: 

If budgeting is just too hard and you cannot afford a place on your own, think about rooming with others. This can be remarkably challenging, though. Yes, you will pay less rent, but you will also have to deal with other people and their quirks, while being respectful with your oddities. If you take this risk, make sure you not only get along, but are compatible to live together. It may seem “totally fun” to live with your bestie, but living together can demolish friendships because you simply cannot tolerate some of their living behaviors. The same goes for moving in with a partner: you can love them all you want, but when you move in, you may find the cracker crumbs and clogged drains to be too much. Having a roommate creates a lot of new rules and forces decency and respect, but is definitely cheaper.

Make a list and check it twice:

Don’t we all want a trendy and spacious apartment near all sorts of fun things? But with our budgets, we probably won’t actually get it. The next step is to start making lists. Decide what is a “must have.” These should be important things, like size, safety of the neighborhood, and if you’re a pet owner, a pet-friendly location. Next should be “would like.” This is much more open-ended and can have just about anything in it. Basically, anything that isn’t absolutely essential will be on this list. You will have to compromise on the “would like” list, but do not compromise on the “must haves.” They are the bare bones minimum.

Searching for an apartment

Understand the different types of apartments:

This works in tandem with preparing to move out, as it means trial and error but also some planning beforehand. There are many, many kinds of apartments, but here are the main types (and pros and cons) you will find:

  • One/two/three/etc bedrooms: standard apartment, usually in a building (complex) with others. Similar layouts to houses, but smaller. Separate rooms.

    • Pros: more privacy, often for longer tenancies. Tends to have more policies, safeguards, maintenance workers, and experienced landlords

    • Cons: more expensive, regulations can be a bit strict, noisy neighbors

  • Studio: all one room. Open concept except for bathroom.

    • Pros: cheaper, easy to clean and maintain, great for beginners

    • Cons: very small, little to no room for guests and extra belongings, not ideal for roommates/partners

  • Junior: a step up from a studio. Open concept, but has a bedroom area blocked off, but no door.

    • Pros: cheaper, more room than a studio, more privacy than a studio

    • Cons: still quite small, little division between rooms

  • Duplex/triplex: building with two/three separate units. Typically divided down the middle of the building but can also be on different levels.

    • Pros: more of a “homey” feel, access to yards, larger, quieter

    • Cons: expensive, have to care for

  • Basement: any of the above, but in a basement.

    • Pros: cheaper, cooler, can be found in any neighborhood, landlord usually lives above if you need them, generally more spacious

    • Cons: potential to be illegal (click here for more information), often live underneath landlord which may be stressful, tends to be darker, noise from above, often has novice landlords

  • Houses: rooms rented out to various people

    • Pros: cheaper, access to yards, live in a home

    • Cons: full of other people, noise

For a first timer, living in a complex seems easier, but is full of loopholes and jumps to go through. Living in basements or studio apartments, in my experience, is easier and cheaper, but there is the risk that it will not be up to the standard code and will have beginner landlords who may not follow all the rules.

Start searching:

It’s time to start looking! My favorite way is to go online, but walking around certain areas, like the Village near York, will give you the chance to see places that have “FOR RENT” signs on them. There’s also the classic style: pulling out the newspaper and a red pen to circle ads with. For basement apartments or rentals from landlords who aren’t associated with companies, the best bet is on various buy/sell sites and apps. Kijiji is one of the most user-friendly sites for this. Some have found success on Craigslist or other, smaller apps, but Kijiji is my pick. It will allow you to set certain parameters such as maximum price, style of apartment, location and so on. You have the opportunity to message the landlord with the click of a button.

If a more professional and corporate apartment is what you desire, there are dozens of sites to use. However, I find that many are outdated, have a poor interface or do not extend throughout cities the same way Kijiji does. Some buildings may even have their own specific website. Some rental sites include View It and Rent Seeker. During my most recent apartment hunt, I found using some of these websites to be quite sloppy. Many of the advertisements posted were old and outdated; they didn’t have any vacancies!

View It uses its space to advertise apartments in complexes, but some ads are outdated.

Photo via View It

Remember to keep an open mind while looking at advertisements. This step takes absolutely forever. I would spend around two-and-a-half to three hours per day for over two months searching for my new place. It takes time, so remember to be patient and not stress too much. Check out Lolade’s article here for things to do when worried and anxious!

Considering apartments

Narrow it down:

After looking at all the ads, it’s time to pick favorites. It’s nowhere near feasible to check out every single place, so narrow it down to a few that really pique your interest. Originally, I had made a long list that had my top picks, from favorite to least. Remember that even after checking them out, you may no longer want to live there. Just find some more! I checked out a little over 10 places before stumbling upon my current place.

Check out the neighborhood:

No one wants to live in a shady and sketchy neighborhood. Check out the areas surrounding a potential place, ideally at day and night. Ask yourself: is it quiet? Do I feel safe? Are there adequate amenities around me? While rougher neighborhoods may be cheaper, please value your safety first!

Photo via Steven Martin

Get the real down-low on rent cost:

My rental cost won’t be the same as yours for several reasons. There are some questions to answer and problems to solve when it comes to how much you’ll really be paying per month. This includes Wi-Fi, utilities and other related bills. Some may charge for parking, and some complexes require payment for keys (typically a down payment) or laundry facilities. Similarly, some shady landlords will straight up alter the price altogether. This is a common problem with complexes. The advertisement will say one price, but the landlord will either forget to update it or raise the cost. Be wary of this, and if the apartment has extra fees, be sure to update the budget.

 

Meet the landlord/property manager:

Finding out who you will potentially be living around and who gets your rent is key. Trust your instinct. If you just can’t seem to connect with them or something just seems off, it’s best to leave, regardless of the apartment. You will be dealing with them at least once a month, and it’s best to at least be friendly with them. I have had great relationships with all of my landlords and it makes running into them a pleasant, not awkward, experience. They’re your neighbor, too, so make sure you get along!

Moving in

Making a choice and applying:

Hurray! You found your fabulous place. Before you sign the lease, though, many landlords will give you an application. Once again, though, some will try to ask questions that are not allowed. Typically, it will ask for a credit check, ID, recent pay stubs/job letter and references, among other things. Do not answer anything that makes you uncomfortable. Some questions that are not allowed include: disability status, marital status and age. These questions should raise some red flags. For a more detailed list, click here or here or here for sample rental applications (series 404). After applying, it is out of your hands. Just cross your fingers and hope for the best. If it falls through, no biggie. Just keep looking.

Learn about your rights and responsibilities:

A common mistake that every beginner makes (including yours truly) is letting rights be stepped on. Reading the Human Rights Code and Residential Tenancies Act tells you just about everything to know legally. It includes obvious things such as you must pay rent on time and that your landlord can’t just walk into your apartment randomly, but also about keeping pets and what happens if your landlord wants to use your apartment for a family member. Click here or here to read.

Congratulations on taking the next step towards adulthood! This is truly a colossal achievement for anyone at any age. Regardless of what apartment you move into and with whom, you should be incredibly proud of and pleased with yourself. Even though your parents might be a bit sad and suffer from Empty Nest Syndrome for a while, they are thrilled for you, too! It’s finally time to settle in, customize your place and make it yours. Best of luck with all of your apartment hunting dreams!